THE Grenfell Tower fire disaster in London in June, 2017 led to the deaths of 72 people, and dealt a devastating blow to the standing of then Prime Minister Theresa May when she visited the site but failed to meet with victims.
She never really recovered.
Around the world governments were forced to assess how many buildings had the same kind of combustible cladding that caused a simple fire in a fourth-floor kitchen, which firemen reached within minutes of an emergency call, to spread to the exterior of the 23-floor Grenfell Tower and become catastrophic in a little more than an hour.
Residents died after they were told to stay in their units because the building's design could contain a fire for as long as it took firemen to bring it under control. A subsequent inquiry found the initial fire would have been controlled but the combustible cladding facilitated a national tragedy.
In Victoria the state government responded to the Grenfell disaster by establishing a taskforce, headed by former Premier Ted Baillieu, that centralised the assessment and rectification process to achieve consistency across the state, and providing $600 million to complete rectification works.
A NSW Government audit in 2017 revealed 1011 buildings potentially at risk from dangerous cladding. By June, 2018 the NSW Government said Fire & Rescue NSW had assessed 2280 buildings and found 417 in need of closer scrutiny.
The government established a register where owners could self-report flammable cladding or suspected flammable cladding, and by 2019 Fire & Rescue NSW contacted consent authorities, including local councils, with classifications of high, medium and low risk buildings, but without identifying the type of cladding.
As the inquiry in Newcastle heard on Thursday, the NSW process is "piecemeal", with local councils left to write to building owners to start the rectification process, and owners corporations left to engage fire safety engineers and pay for rectification works.
Newcastle City Council was strongly challenged by inquiry chair David Shoebridge about its slow response to the Fire & Rescue referrals, but it is hard to go past the NSW Government's responsibility-shifting as deserving of the real criticism here.
And once again it's consumers who pay.